State to allow DOW and agents to kill problem bears
SUMMIT COUNTY – Black bears that repeatedly forage in trash, harass citizens and pets or break into homes in search of food now can be shot by agents of the state Division of Wildlife under legislation approved by the state Senate last week.
The bill, a rewrite of a similar House bill that would have allowed bear hunting in the off-season, is meant to protect the safety of people who are harassed by black bears.
State Rep. Jim Snook, R-Alamosa, who proposed the bill, said it will allow the state Division of Wildlife (CDOW) – and agents contracted with CDOW – to kill problem bears. CDOW officials, who are allowed to shoot problem bears, currently don’t have the resources to respond to the numerous reports of bears in the summer and fall months.
The bill originally would have allowed people to kill bears in the summer; Front Range residents envisioned people shooting at the ursine invaders from backyard apple trees. It since has been reworded to only allow DOW officials or agents to shoot the bears.
“I think the division’s point of view is that we’d be in favor of anything that gives us increased flexibility,” said Dale Lashnits, a public information officer with the division. “I’m fairly confident the division would be pretty restrictive in who is allowed to do this, and pretty demanding that people know what they’re doing. In some cases, these are urbanized areas and we want to be sure whatever activities of wildlife management are undertaken safely.”
Todd Malmsbury, CDOW’s chief of information, said agents with whom the division might contract could include law enforcement, outfitters, trackers or people in the community who have experience with firearms and wildlife.
“It will provide CDOW officers with an additional tool to use in circumstances when they’re overwhelmed with bear calls,” he said. “We don’t expect it to get wide use.”
The bill has received support from CDOW, the Colorado Outfitters Association and the Colorado Audubon Society. Opponents include the Sierra Club and Political Voice for Animals. Others have said the problem can be better addressed through education, because people live in bear country and should take more precautions to prevent bears from venturing into neighborhoods and homes.
The problem is prevalent in Summit County – particularly in Wildernest, Peak 7, Blue River and Frisco – where bear sightings are frequently reported, especially in the spring and autumn. In recent years, drought conditions have forced bears to forage for food at lower elevations, and that’s often led them to the easy pickings in Dumpsters, picnic areas and decks.
“The single most important thing is to teach people to live with wildlife,” Malmsbury said. “One reason they come to houses is because they’ve learned there’s food. If they don’t find food, they won’t hang around there. If you quit doing that, the vast majority of problems will go away.”
In recent years, Waste Management, the county’s primary trash collection service, has offered bear-resistant trash cans to its customers, law enforcement officials have tried to educate the public about human and bear encounters, signs were erected warning people about the ursine beasts and laws were passed requiring people to keep trash inside to discourage bears.
Bears got wise even to those preventive measures. People reported bears jumping on the steel-reinforced steel lids on Dumpsters and pawing at the locks on trash cans.
“The bear population in the state has been pretty stable for the last 30 years,” Lashnits said. “What has changed is that folks have chosen to move out of town into rural and agricultural areas and the net result is increased conflicts. The other factor is the weather. You get drought conditions and you don’t get a berry crop … bears are omnivorous. They’re going to eat. And we’re pretty good source of food supplies. That’s what causes all the problems, when get bears associate humans with food.”
“This is where bears live,” Malmsbury said. “Much of the population increase in Colorado has taken place in prime bear habitat; it’s also prime condo and second-home habitat. But I tell people, if you see a bear, you don’t need to call the DOW. Consider yourself lucky; you got to see a bear.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or email@example.com.
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